Cooper's slur is learning moment


Riley Cooper insists that he is sorry, that he is disgusted by his own words, that he is embarrassed and ashamed beyond belief.

To which the average sports fan will conclude: Nice try.

Something is sad about that response, true as it might be.

We have grown to be the most cynical of beings in such matters, aided in such a pessimistic regard by the mountain of lies athletes have perpetuated on us over and over.

It’s a high mountain. It’s Everest and K2 and Lhotse all in one.

And that’s just enough to hold most of Lance Armstrong’s lies.

I heard that Cooper had played the part of bigot at a Kenny Chesney concert and wondered: The guy from those “Hangover” movies never struck me as the type.

Oh. Riley Cooper. Not Bradley.

But that’s what we have, and this is how most will respond: Some average NFL wide receiver with 46 career catches and five touchdowns, certainly not on anyone’s first page of potential fantasy league draft choices, more expendable by the Eagles than a paper cup, has reminded us that bigotry still exists around all corners and, in this case, near some stages of major concerts.

And that we can’t trust a thing Cooper says from this moment forward.

I hope the latter isn’t true.

Cooper got himself all liquored up at the concert in Philadelphia and said he would “fight every (racial epithet) here.” His rant was directed at a black security guard and caught on a cellphone, because having anyone act like an insensitive dweeb and not catching it on a cellphone nowadays with plans to sell the footage likely would violate some federal statute.

Cooper was incredibly wrong, incredibly stupid, incredibly intolerant in his words and actions, and none of that has anything to do with his 1980s ponytail. He owes the security guard a personal apology, and I’m sure no one would frown on the fact if Cooper threw in a few 50-yard line seats to the next home game for the guy who merely was doing his job.

There is no excuse for what happened, no explanation other than Cooper at that moment defined ignorance in its ugliest manner.

I have always believed that, more often than not, alcohol tends to paint a person in his or her truest light when it comes to what is said, meaning I don’t believe for a second this is the first time Cooper thought or uttered such hideous things.

You don’t say that word just once.

It’s either in you or not to do so.

But the issue now is what happens going forward, how fans and teammates and media react to Cooper.

How if some accept his apology to be as sincere as it appeared or refuse to believe he owns an ounce of contrition.

If, well, many care at all.

“The last few days have been incredibly difficult for me,” Cooper said through a statement. “My actions were inexcusable. The more I think about what I did, the more disgusted I get. I keep trying to figure out how I could have said something so repulsive, and what I can do to make things better.”

And so begins the process.

The Eagles on Friday excused Cooper from all team activities in order that he undergo counseling, this after the team fined him an undisclosed amount. He is being paid during his absence and is expected to return to the team.

He should.

How are we to ever use such learning moments in a positive manner if the answer is to always exclude rather than educate? Cooper’s teammates have every right to form their own opinion about him — the man they thought they knew, the one they believe now stands in front of them — and he must live with each reaction.

For many players, it will come down to how well he produces on the field once returning. Really. That’s professional sports, right or wrong, good or bad.

It’s not much different for fans other than this part: We don’t trust athletes any more, either what we see on the field to be pure or the denials that come off it. Too many lies.

I don’t know Riley Cooper. I know he said a disgusting, ignorant thing. Not the first one to do so. Won’t be the last.

But if something good is to come of this, we have to find a bit of faith within ourselves to believe not all athletes wish to deceive us in their darkest moments.

The hardest thing today is giving Riley Cooper the benefit of the doubt that he wants to change for the better, that he really isn’t the person in that video.

Only then, can we teach.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.